Review: Old School Tactical Vol 229 Nov 2017 2
Review: Old School Tactical Vol 2
Released 16 Oct 2017
Flying Pig Games (I have really got to find out why about this name . . .) has followed their successful Old School Tactical Vol 1 cardboard counter wargame with a recently released second volume, aptly named – wait for it – Old School Tactical Vol 2 (OST2). Both games cover small unit tactics in World War II, meaning that each hex represents 50 meters across, while units are individual vehicles (think M4 Sherman), squads, personalities and a single crew served weapon like a heavy machinegun. However, while the first volume covered the East Front, this new offering brings in the Americans and concerns combat in the West. OST2 is also unique in that it was Kickstarter funded.
Nothing personal or political intended, but this game is YUGE! The delightfully illustrated, oversized box contains a mounted (yes, mounted, as in Old School) 30 x 41 inch map, 3 die cut counter sheets containing both 7/8 inch counters (for individual tanks and vehicles) and ¾ inch counters (everything else, such as squads, info markers and so on), a deck 36 unit data and 16 “Luck” cards, four dice, two quick reference sheets, a 22 page rule booklet and a scenario book with 18 engagements to fight. Everything is full color glossy and attention to detail is evident everywhere. Take vehicles, for example, such as the German Pzkw IV-H, correctly attired in its base tan paint scheme with accompanying rust and dark green camouflage. The perspective here is top down, and little bits of chrome such as front glacis sandbags and a white star painted on the engine grill of the M4A1 Sherman that really allow the game to stand out.
The map is equally well done and also features a top down perspective. Having lived in Europe for four years with the US Army, I can validate the map as an excellent representation of typical hinterland terrain found in north-western Europe. And once again, attention to detail is evident with the map sporting its own flashes of chrome here and there. For instance, some of the maps feature circular double tracks hither, thither and yon, showing the path of other armored or wheeled vehicles that might have passed thru the area recently. Hexes are 1 inch, numbered and feature the near obligatory center aiming dot.
Seriously, the game really weighs a lot, and for $ 90 US (on sale now for $ 80) it’s also quite reasonably priced. Actually compared to some of the price tags from the big guys like GMT, OST2 could be considered down right cheap. There are also some add-ons available. These include an airborne expansion ($ 45), a strategy guide ($ 25), a geomorphic summer and winter map expansion ($ 45) and finally a neoprene mat set. All are available at a discount right now from the firm’s Website.
There are many reasons that a wargame may be good or bad, but I have to say that the thing that really impressed me about OST2 was its rules presentation. The designers used a format I had not seen before, and while it may look to some like a “Wargaming for Dummies” writing style, I really like it and could easily recommend it to other designers as well.
The rules booklet uses an outline system, something pretty familiar to most who have every pushed a cardboard counter along on a paper map. However, fully one half of the rules’ 22 pages is devoted to a counter by counter description of every unit and marker in the game, what the numbers mean on each, and what rules within the game specifically impact each. Lavishly illustrated, if there is a unique counter in the game, such as a tank or smoke marker, there is an entire paragraph within the first half of the rules explaining exactly what makes this critter tick. The presentation is further enhanced by numerous examples, all displayed in a burgundy-red font, making them stand out and easy to locate. New rules, such as Opportunity Fire, have paragraph headings in blue.
Note that if this section takes up 11 of 22 pages, this means the rules that specifically tell a player how to play the game are only 11 or 12 pages long. Given examples and illustrations, this means that the learning curve is likely to be very short. This section generally follows the game’s sequence of play, but like the first half of the book, uses a very granular outline system to explain every aspect. For example, rules that cover attaching leaders might indicate a leader must be in the same hex to attach, but can enter the board as a reinforcement attached or start a scenario attached. In this game those three concepts are three separate line items or subparagraphs. Its one concept per outline point, the ultimate KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) perspective and as a retired military guy, one that I can absolutely appreciate. Kudos on this part of the equation.
As the rules note, a lot of what the game does is pretty conventional, has been done before at this level of combat and should be pretty familiar. Yes, there are line of sight rules, close combat rules, entries for drifting indirect artillery fire and so on, but the sequence of play used in OST is another big selling point IMHO. First, at the beginning of the game each player draws a Luck Card and may play it at any time in any turn. Its particulars are kept secret from the other side and may say something to the effect of Strafing Run available. So if your opponent is lunatic enough to bunch up his units in open ground, you can make him regret it good and hard for at least one turn.
Then at the beginning of each turn both players roll 2D6 to determine the Initiative, or who gets to go first during that turn. High die wins, ties are rolled over, though the winner can defer to his adversary if he has less Impulse Points than the loyal opposition. And it’s the Impulse Points system that affords the game my coveted “Frictionalized” designation. By this I mean the game properly attempts to bring realistic uncertainty from the battlefield to the board, mimicking Clausewitz’s Friction, or as one bard put it, “the enemy always gets a vote.”
In each scenario each of the two sides receives a number of Impulse Points per turn, based on a modified die roll. For example, in scenario 12 “Bourbon for Bravery”, die Soldaten of the German 12tes Volksgrenadier Division collect Impulse Points at the rate of 2D6 +2 every turn. On the other hand the lads of the US 1st Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions receive Impulse Points based on a 4D6 each turn. Obviously, the American should receive more Impulse Points than the German for most turns, and this is important. Impulse Points are expended at the rate of one for every action that a unit takes on the board, although no unit may act more than twice in a single turn. For example, a single Impulse Point is expended when a unit Moves, Fires, Assaults, Rallies, calls in Indirect Fire and so on. The first player uses one Impulse Point, and then his opponent uses one Impulse Point, rotating until all points are used within a turn. If a player has no action to perform but still has points left, he may expend a point to pass. In the example above, should the German roll 2D6 of which one die is a 5, the other a 3, he would have 8 Impulse Points plus 2 for a total of 10. Ten is the total number of actions the Germans may take that turn. Should the American roll four 6’s, he would have 24 Impulse points to do likewise.
Yes, every action requires and receives a detailed explanation on how it should be performed, but in essence, that is the whole concept of gameplay in a nutshell.
I’m not a big fan of World War II, outside some of the esoteric campaigns such as Finland 1939, Poland 1939 and France 1940, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know my way around ein Sturmgeschutze. My first wargame ever bought and played was a little ditty called Panzerblitz. Remember that one? It had mounted map boards, so pretty Old School to my mind. I enjoyed the Hell out of that game for years until I moved to other things.
I count OST2 as superior to P’Blitz as it is much more realistic in its uncertainty, easier to play and with the unique presentation style a lot easier to learn. If you’re a board gamer and fond of this period and scale, I urge you to take a look, as I do miniature players. These rules beg for a pewter based expansion. No matter. If another expansion does come out featuring Souma S-35’s and Char B-1 bis, I dunno, but I have a feeling my wallet is going to be a few Shekels lighter.
Excellent effort, highly recommended.